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Drunken driving now a fireable offense for Pinellas sheriff’s employees

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Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies or employees convicted of drunk driving, or who register high blood-alcohol levels after getting pulled over, will be fired under a new policy that went into effect this week.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri emailed employees Monday afternoon, notifying them of the change.

Before, a deputy or civilian employee with no prior disciplinary history stood to be suspended for seven days for a drunk driving arrest.

“I never want to be in the position of having to terminate anyone’s employment; however, I also do not want to be the one knocking on the door of someone’s home at 2 a.m. telling them that their loved one was killed by a DUI driver — especially one that works for PCSO,” the sheriff said in the email.

“There is an easy solution to avoid any consequence of this new policy: Don’t drive while impaired.”

Gualtieri said on Tuesday that his decision was spurred by three recent cases involving deputies or potential deputies, including one with a blood-alcohol percent of 0.2 who wrecked after driving the wrong way down Armenia Avenue in Tampa on Oct 24. Another was a probationary deputy — or one not yet given union protection — who got into a wreck in the parking lot of the Green Iguana in Tampa.

Under Gualtieri’s new policy, any sheriff’s office employee convicted of drunk driving would be fired, as would anyone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent — the point at which Florida law presumes a driver to be impaired — or higher. If a deputy or civilian employee refuses to submit to a breath test, internal affairs investigators will demand one.

The new policy does not apply to those already accused of drunken driving, such as Deputy Chester Johnson, who was arrested in Tampa last month.

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